The old former Communist clicked his plastic worry beads and scowled. It was the precise moment, as it turned out, that Afghanistan’s fierce Islamic rebels, who had battled the Soviet-style regime for the past 13 years, won their holy war--swarming the strategic capital with thousands of battle-scarred moujahedeen warriors.
But as he watched from his window as the jeeps of long-bearded fighters careened through the streets and claimed building after building in Kabul, Suleiman Layeq, the fallen regime’s ideologue and poet, said he was more afraid for the future of his nation than for his life.
“The support of the mullahs is very dangerous--all the mullahs, all the brains of all the parties,” he said of his Islamic religious counterparts, the powerful advisers in the myriad moujahedeen parties now ruling the Afghan capital through coalition. “Without exception, they follow the way of the fundamentalist aims and goals of Islam. And it is not Islam. It is a kind of theory against civilization--against modern civilization.”
At the time, those words from a key architect of a regime that was collapsing all around him seemed to be an exaggeration. Sibghatullah Mojaddidi, the Islamic resistance leader installed soon afterward as Afghanistan’s interim president, was, after all, widely considered a moderate. Ahmed Shah Masoud, the powerful guerrilla leader who helped pave his way to power, was similarly viewed.
But less than a month after the arrival of Afghanistan’s first Islamic regime since the days of the proselytizing Mogul conquerors three centuries ago, such predictions were taking solid form.
The Islamic priests in Mojaddidi’s coalition quickly laid down the new law: All alcohol is now banned in the Islamic republic; women cannot venture out in the streets without veils, and violations will be punished strictly according to Islamic Sharia law--a legal prescription for floggings, amputations and public executions.
The new edicts came quickly on the heels of other harsh measures that startled Western analysts in the capital.
The coalition’s new general secretary and official spokesman, a self-styled ayatollah from one of Afghanistan’s powerful Shiite-sect moujahedeen parties, announced that the leadership was creating an “Islamic people’s court for bringing justice against traitors and invaders.”
When pressed on the new Islamic justice system that appeared to contradict an earlier announcement of general amnesty by Mojaddidi, the ayatollah confirmed: “A person who is guilty of violating Islamic law and the rights of the people, and the people don’t like him, and they want him punished, they can take him to this court. We have announced a general amnesty, and the government’s responsibility is over. Now it’s up to the people.”
With echoes of nearby Iran’s revolution resounding through the Afghan capital and amid reports that one former regime official already had been tortured to death in Kabul, Layeq, the ideologue, later reflected: “I want to stay. But I look at the situation, first, by where is the power and, second, what is their first step.
“If they follow the policy of terror and the fundamentalist principles of Islam,” he said, “this country is not a place where intellectuals can live. Me? I’m an old man. So it is not very important whether I go or I stay. I want to play a role in the new government. But what is important is the future of Afghanistan, and now it appears more and more that our future lies in our past.”
Deepening the concern of Western analysts who sense that Kabul’s new regime is slipping further toward fundamentalist Islamic tenets is a continuing standoff between the ruling coalition and the even more fundamentalist rebel faction of radical moujahedeen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Negotiations have been under way between the coalition and representatives of Hekmatyar. But Masoud had made it clear that he has no intention of granting Hekmatyar’s present demands, among them Mojaddidi’s resignation and the removal from Kabul of several powerful former regime militias now loyal to the Islamic coalition. Hekmatyar has vowed to renew attacks on Kabul if his demands are not met.
Now, ripples of concern are washing up as far away as Turkey and India over the increasingly fundamentalist policies of Kabul’s tenuous ruling coalition, which has been further destabilized by fundamentalists who were left out of the alliance.
“My theory is, if Afghanistan falls to fundamentalist Islam, then the entire region falls--and increasingly, it’s starting to look that way,” a diplomat said in Ankara, Turkey, where an underground Islamic group has claimed responsibility for many bombings and assassinations in the past two years.
In New Delhi, capital of a nation long proud of its secular policies, a senior bureaucrat shook his head when he heard about the Islamic edicts in Kabul. “Well, that completes the belt of Islam that lies at our doorstep,” he said of India, whose population of 850 million includes more than 100 million Muslims. “With an Islamic insurgency in Kashmir (the strategic northern Indian state), and a hostile Pakistan just beyond, these events must give us all pause.”
Such concern also is being felt north of Afghanistan in the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. There, former Communists from the previous Soviet regimes are increasingly embattled in their efforts to rule over Muslim-majority populations. And analysts said there is now an additional threat of an influx of refugees from Afghanistan’s former regime.
Several former regime officials who had backed the Islamic takeover have reportedly fled to the old Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and a diplomat in Kabul said that more are likely to follow.
“But there is a very positive side to an exodus of refugees from here to these new states of Central Asia,” the diplomat added. “If there are a lot of technocrats from the regime here going there, I think those republics will be happy. They need them there. It’s the fundamentalism that presents the real threat to these Central Asian leaders. They are unpopular regimes, and they’re ripe for revolution.”
Clearly, though, Afghanistan’s neighbor to the east, the Islamic state of Pakistan, is watching with most concern Kabul’s fundamentalist drift.
In Islamic Pakistan, which has alternated between moderation and fundamentalism in its 45 years as an independent state, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has embarked on a course to try to marginalize the fundamentalists--in his country and in Afghanistan, as well.
In a bold move, Sharif braved incoming rocket, artillery and tank fire and flew to Kabul within hours of Mojaddidi’s rise to power. He stayed long enough to lend support to Mojaddidi’s rule and send a message of repudiation to fundamentalist leader Hekmatyar and the Pakistani Jama’at-i-Islami political party, which has staunchly backed the radical Afghan leader for more than a decade. In response, Jama’at-i-Islami, which represents 10% of the vote in Pakistan’s National Assembly, withdrew its support of Sharif’s coalition government in Islamabad.
Senior ideologues of the Pakistani fundamentalist party have camped in Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel, where they effectively banned alcohol and barred women not wearing veils days before Mojaddidi’s coalition officially followed suit.